International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples


Today, the 9th of August, is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.  This day is about centering the indigenous peoples of the world. The United Nations has identified indigenous peoples as one of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people in the world. In Europe, the Sami people are the only recognized indigenous population. In this article, I will tell you a bit more about this day and the Sami people.

International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is on the 9th of August every year

Indigenous peoples

The United Nations estimates that there are around 370 million indigenous people in the world. This is less than five percent of the world’s population. Indigenous peoples are the original inhabitants of a certain region. This means that they have lived in that region for a long time, instead of having settled or occupied the area more recently. Indigenous peoples often live in different ways than the majority culture. They also often have different social, cultural, economic and political structures in their societies.

2018 theme

The Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was first declared by the United Nations in 1994. This year, the focus of the day is indigenous peoples’ migration and movement. Because of oppression, many indigenous peoples lose their land, territories and resources. Because of this, many of them migrate to urban areas in search of a better life. Therefore, in 2018, the day focuses on the causes of migration, trans-border movement, and the current situation of indigenous territories.

Sami people

In Europe, the Sami people are the only indigenous population. The Sami people live in Northern Europe, in Sápmi. This is a region spreading out over Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. For a long time, the Sami people have experienced discrimination and oppression. Because of this, many Sami people were ashamed of their heritage. They therefore tried to integrate fully into the dominant societies, leaving their culture behind. This means that it is hard to know how many Sami people there are. A common estimate is that there are around 80.000-100.000 Sami people in Sápmi.

Flag of Sápmi, indigenous peoples of Europe
Flag of Sápmi

Sami languages

There are ten Sami languages. The Sami languages are part of the Uralic language family, which also includes Finnish, Hungarian and Estonian. All Sami languages are at risk of disappearing. One language is already extinct. This means that there are no native speakers of the language anymore. This is partly because of the historical oppression of the Sami people. For example, in Norway, using Sami languages was illegal until 1958, even at home. Because of this, there are many Sami people who do not speak any of the Sami languages.


For a long time, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia have oppressed the Sami people. As mentioned, Sami people were not allowed to speak their language for a long time. They were also forbidden to practice their religion, and their land is taken over by the majority countries more and more. Their traditional way of living is also threatened by climate change.

Nowadays, there are more laws in place to protect the rights of the Sami people and other indigenous populations all around the world. An important document is the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This was adopted in the United Nations in 2007. The Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is now also a day to call attention to this declaration and to remind people of how important it is.

In 2017, Amnesty International Sweden made this video about Sami activism

For more information about this day, click here

For more information about the Sami people, click here

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